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1 April 1938, the day he received news of winning the Sesquicentenary Library Prize
|Born||15 May 1901|
Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia
|Died||10 November 1984 (aged 83)|
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
|Pen name||Xavier Herbert, E. Norden, Alfred Jackson, Herbert Astor|
Xavier Herbert (15 May 1901 – 10 November 1984) was an Australian writer best known for his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel Poor Fellow My Country (1975). He is considered one of the elder statesmen of Australian literature. He is also known for short story collections and his autobiography Disturbing Element.
Herbert was born Alfred Jackson in Geraldton, Western Australia, in 1901, the illegitimate son of Amy Victoria Scammell and Benjamin Francis Herbert, a Welsh-born engine driver. He was registered at birth as Alfred Jackson, son of John Jackson, auctioneer, with whom his mother had already had two children. Before writing he worked many jobs in Western Australia and Victoria; his first job was in a pharmacy at the age of fourteen. He studied pharmacy at Perth Technical College and was registered as a pharmacist on 21 May 1923 as Alfred Xavier Herbert. He moved to Melbourne, and in 1935 enrolled at the University of Melbourne to study medicine. He started his writing career writing short stories for the popular magazine and newspaper market, publishing under a range of pseudonyms, the most common being Herbert Astor.
He did not publish his first book, Capricornia, until 1938. Capricornia was in part based on Herbert's experiences as Protector of Aborigines in Darwin, though it was written in London between 1930 and 1932. It won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for Australia's Best Novel of 1939.
The 1940s and 1950s were a relatively lean time for Herbert in terms of publication. He released Seven Emus (1959). In the 1960s he published two books, before the release of Poor Fellow My Country (1975), as well as a short story collection. Poor Fellow My Country is the longest Australian novel.
Herbert was well known for his outspoken views on indigenous issues. He was a great champion of Aboriginal peoples, particularly those living in missions in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In his personal life he was considered difficult, and his wife Sadie said it was a choice between having children and looking after Xavier. Aware of his own mythology, he frustrated biographers by telling unreliable stories about his life and past.
In 1977 the artist Ray Crooke painted a Portrait of Xavier Herbert followed in 1980 by a Portrait of Sadie Herbert. Professor Emeritus Laurie Hergenhan discusses the story behind the creation of these artworks, and another portrait by Crooke of Sir Zelman Cowen, in "A Tale of Three Portraits." Xavier Herbert died in 1984, aged 83.
Manuscript reference no.: NLA MS 9116